JCPA’s 19-person delegation to Israel took the temperature of the two-state outcome, assessed the state of Israeli democracy and pluralism, and studied issues important to the community relations field.
“We returned with numerous insights that will benefit our work, but most striking was how much Israelis—from young people to Knesset members to Palestinians—both need and want to learn how to cultivate civic engagement and grassroots advocacy from our community relations field.” Click here to read more from Melanie Roth Gorelick’s reflection.
BINA SECULAR YESHIVA
Participants in front of the BINA Secular Yeshiva campus. BINA manages multiple short- and long-term Jewish study programs and then connects students to the social justice values of our tradition through active community projects that aid asylum seekers, improve the environment, and other important work.
Ramadan Dabash (left), a Palestinian running for election in the Jerusalem city Council, briefs participants. Dabash is part of a group looking to work in partnership with Israeli authorities to improve their community. One part of their challenge is that only about 2,000 of the 170,000 Palestinians eligible to vote in the Jerusalem elections actually voted. Palestinians in East Jerusalem do not have the right to vote in the Knesset but they do have the right to vote in municipal elections. The three reasons they do not vote is that they do not want to legitimate Israel’s control of the city, they do not think it will matter, and they have not gotten in the habit. The last two reasons are, of course, familiar to us all! An inspiring morning about how democracy and ground-level activism can make a difference.
Two years ago, Eliezer Ya’ari started producing a documentary film that was just released called that Optimists and featured Dr. Tariq Abu Hammed, a chemist at Kibbutz Ketura in the Arava and lives in Sur Baher, an Arab village adjacent to Jerusalem’s southern border. The Mission watched the movie and took a tour of Jerusalem both East and West with Eliezer, ending in Sur Baher for a meeting with Dr. Tariq Abu Hammed and Raman Dabash in the Village Community Center.
HEBREW UNIVERSITY COLLEGE
Na’ama Kelman, Dean of Hebrew Union College, Jerusalem Campus, discusses the Hebrew Union College and the Reform Movement’s efforts to promote religious pluralism in Israel.
Participants tour the area immediately adjacent to the Gaza Strip, overlooking the border, guided by Col (Res.) Grisha Yakubovich, who provided an insightful assessment of political, military and economic issues related to Gaza. We are about 1200 meters from Sderot looking into Gaza. Our guide explaining the political and strategic dynamics of the four key actors in the region: Hamas and Fatah that battle for political leadership of the Palestinians, and the governments of Israel and Egypt. Not shown here was a moment when we heard gun fire unexpectedly coming from Gaza causing us to move back from the positions you see here. (We are near a small area of burnt land from arson attacks.) We learned later there was no threat in this case. But it well illustrates the kind of situation that exists at the border. The key problem remains with the political leadership. The big question is what is the right response given 2.7 million people who suffer the consequences.
Our time down south ended with a confidential briefing with a Palestinian from Gaza (no pics) and then off to Sderot to visit Talya Levanon (pictured above), head of the Israel Trauma Coalition. The ITC provides multi-layered support for victims of trauma, providing immediate relief to victims as well as building capacity for those who serve victims.
Visiting the Israeli Supreme Court. In addition to touring the Court, including attending part of an oral argument, we met with Orly Erez Likhovsky from the Israel Religious Action Center. IRAC, affiliated with the Reform movement does great work fighting for religious pluralism and equality for Reform and Conservative Jews in Israel.
MEETING WITH HOTLINE FOR REFUGEES AND MIGRANTS
Usmain, a Darfuri refugee who has lived in Israel since he was 14. He arrived to Israel without a family and has since completed his university education in Israel. Israel has processed fewer than 15 asylum applications from the 35,000 Darfuri and Eritrean refugees.
Usmain and Tamar, representing the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, address participants. Israel has processed fewer than 15 asylum applications from the approximately 35,000 Darfuri and Eritrean refugees, who have been in Israel for 7-13 years and that the Israeli government is threatening to deport them, without much care for their safety in the countries to which they would be sent.
MEETING WITH FAITH REPRESENTATIVES
Jewish Agency representatives from the Rossing Center for Education and Dialogue discuss the challenges of assimilation and discrimination that the Christian community faces. It was a challenging morning, but with some hope for the continued vibrancy of the Israeli public sphere.
MEETING WITH FOREIGN MINISTRY
Avi Tor from the Foreign Ministry addresses the Mission. We were joined by Rabbi Rick Jacobs, head of the Union of Reform Judaism. We had a lively discussion of religious pluralism in Israel and relations between Israel and North American Jewry.
The Mission met with Knesset Members Tamar Zandberg, Nachman Shai, Rachel Azaria, and Tzipiv Livni. The Delegation attended a special JFNA Knesset event that evening.
MKs Tamar Zandberg, Nachman Shai, Rachel Azaria, and Tzipiv Livni discuss a number of issues including the stalled peace process, the flawed Nation-State bill, religious pluralism, and asylum seekers.
MK Rachel Azaria
MK Nachman Shai
MK Tzipni Livni
Inspiring conversation with Tzipi Livini, the head of the opposition party. A vibrant critic of the nation state law (“not because of what is in it, but because of what was left out”), she has been a voice for a strong and secure Israel that has to remain a democratic and a Jewish State. She is preparing a bill that would make Israel’s Declaration of Independence—with its joint commitment to Jewish sovereignty and equal rights for all minorities—the official constitution. She spoke eloquently about the value of strong and vocal opposition to government policies as loyal supporters of Israel and a path to engagement.
INSTITUTE FOR NATIONAL STRATEGIC STUDIES
Meeting at the Institute for National Strategic Studies, where we had presentations from Ambassadors Dr. Oded Eran and former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro with lively Q & A. Glen Dubin, Israel Mission Co-Chair, introduced the speakers.